Harold en Italie (1834), Melancholia, and Romantic Loss

David Curran

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Commentators approaching Berlioz’s second symphony, Harold en
Italie, have variously interrogated the work’s literary allusion to the
poetry of Lord Byron, its derivation from the events of Berlioz’s stay in
Italy, the influence of the instrumental music of Beethoven, the
ambiguity arising from the mixture of the concerto and symphonic
genres, and the commission from Paganini, and even its roots in the
theatrical music of nineteenth-century Paris. What has been much less
studied, however, is the symphony’s contribution to the history of ideas.
Berlioz mobilizes a wide range of sources, I argue, to make a profound
philosophical statement about the modern subject’s relationship to
nature, a matter of great importance to the Romantics, and exemplified
most powerfully, perhaps, in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and
Friedrich Schiller. Both of these figures argued, for example, that
humans once lived in a harmonious unity with nature but that such a
state has since been lost. This article takes the position that this loss can
be expressed musically, and interrogates, with reference to the psychoanalytical
theories of Sigmund Freud, how Berlioz stages his own
response to this loss in his deformation of the structural processes of
sonata form and a dialectical opposition of various topics and styles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-99
Number of pages43
JournalMusicology Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016

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